Four days of protests against the closure of a small park in the city turned violent yesterday, as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of demonstrators. The otherwise peaceful sit-in protest was aimed at preventing the closure of one of Istanbul’s few green open spaces, to clear space for a shopping mall and the reconstruction of an Ottoman-era army barracks. In recent days the protest evolved into a demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.
Armed security forces wearing gas masks, moved into Gezi Park in the Taksim district and fired batteries of tear gas while expelling protesters along with their sleeping bags and tents. Once the park had been cleared, thousands of demonstrators moved to Taksim Square, where they clashed with police armed with water cannons and tear gas rounds. According to the Turkish Medical Assoication, the chaos left at least 12 people injured including two tourists caught in the commotion. 63 people were also placed under arrest.
On Friday evening, rights groups and the EU condemned the police’s actions that also sparked smaller protests in Izmir and Ankara. Yesterday’s public outcry follows a number of events marking the citizens’ disapproval of the governments approach to Syria, restrictions on alcohol sales and urban development projects in the city.
“we’re protesting not because of some trees, but because we’re sick of this oppression and this police brutality against people”
– Emrah Kara, protestor
As the protests started to gain momentum on Wednesday, PM Mr Erdogan stated that the government would continue with the project as planned. Mr Erdogan cut the ribbon to mark the beginning of a contraversial project to build a new bridge over the Bosporus.
“They can do what they want. We’ve made our decision and we will do as we have decided”
– PM Recep Erdogan
However on Friday afternoon, a court in Istanbul ruled that the construction project near the park would be put on hold for the time being.
“With this court decision, they cannot at the moment continue with this project to build a mall in our park. This is important, because the prime minister was saying, ‘We decided, it will be done,’ but the ruling shows that he has no legal basis for the things he is doing”
– Osman Kavala, Taksim Platform activist
Confrontation between protesters and security forces continued late into Friday night at Taksim Square, as thousands of demonstrators chanted for the PM to resign.